Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Travel Log: Indonesia Day 4

This week back at work, people are sharing their travel stories. I love hearing about amazing places and potential "nexts" and have also received a couple compliments on my photos from Indonesia. "It looks like you had a great time," I hear, and yeah I enjoyed my trip, but there were also days that sucked. This reminded me how social media is often used for the good. We post to bolster ourselves up, nurturing the FOMO culture. So here's a bit of a downer from my travel log to help keep things more honest.

Dec 20th, 2018

Rainy season is not a misnomer. I was lucky with 3 days of no rain for my first week in Malang on Java and I was beginning to think the rest of my trip would follow suit. Unfortunately nope. Today it poured all day. If I could go back in time, I think I would have hidden the day away inside with a book, but nope. I was trying to make the most of it...

The morning started off okay as I switched from Nuu's place to Wandi's via GoJek motorbike. Once I arrived at Wandi's and put my things away, his friend came to take me around the area on his motorbike while Wandi went to work. It was cloudy, but I wasn't really concerned, yet. We made it to the first temple all right, but a few minutes on the road afterward, it started spitting.

Walking around a temple area
before the rain.
Then the watefall unleashed. There I was on the back of a motorcycle, unprotected from these watery pellets, mentally kicking myself because my rain protection was attached to the outside of my backpack. My guide, while he couldn't speak English, didn't like the rain much either and pulled over to a random and slightly run-down porch (the only other occupants a chicken and her chicks). I hopped off, eager to put on my rain gear while he used a translator to tell me he was going to get a jacket from a friend.

It struck me a moment after he sped away that I probably should have been mildly concerned that he left me in the middle of nowhere in the rain. What if he doesn't come back, I thought for a moment, and then again as the minutes dragged on. I think it was nearly 20 minutes before he returned and we continued on our way. Sadly, there was no change in the weather.

Waiting for my guide
to come back.
We zipped up higher into the mountains and clouds and I wondered what gems were hidden by the rain and gloom. When we arrived at our next destination, we passed through manicured fields of green. Living on Jeju island, I quickly recognized the bushes for a variety of green tea, but had never seen so many rows weaving off in all directions. As we turned to head up higher, the road went from smooth asphalt to mini-bolders. Looking back now, I don't know how I managed to stay on the motorbike. It was like I was the ping-pong ball and the bike was the paddle. As the wheel moved forward, I was constantly jolted from my seat and I struggled to remain on the bike. When we finally made it to the flat trail and I dismounted, I was pretty sure I had done some permanent damage to my knees and dreaded the idea of returning back the way we came.

In case you forgot, it was still pouring and at this point, the clouds were so low that you could hardly see 100m in the distance. We took shelter with a group of teenagers and some older men beneath a bamboo hut. A small fire was going and I was grateful for a place by the warmth. If any photos of dripping, navy blue-clad nuns on the side of a foggy mountain appear on the interwebs, that's me. The boys weren't very discreet in snapping photos, but oh well. We didn't really have much else to do. One of the men spoke a little English and he eagerly tried to small talk while the others just listened or talked amongst themselves. For an hour. I'm not very good at small talk. Especially when I'm cold, wet, and trying to cross language barriers. But I want the record to know that he was nice and trying. When the rain finally let up enough for us to try the path, the man asked for a picture and even told me I was beautiful, although I really have to question his eyesight at that point...
Looking my finest in the weather.

Working in the rain.
I slipped down the trail (literally. I misjudged a step and ended up covered in mud and water), but at this point, it didn't really make a difference to my wetness level or mood. In the fields, I could see all of these women bundled in vibrant tarp-blue harvesting tea leaves. With the weather as it was, I was surprised they were still working away. Respect.

At last I arrived at an elevated lookout. Just look at my spectacular view (after everything that morning, of course I took a picture to document the experience):

Green tea fields in the rain.
I'm sure it's great on a sunny day, but it was just eerie in the rain and fog. I feel like this is where a horror film would start or end. After snapping that picture, I returned back toward the bike, my guide on my heels.

As we rode back down the mountain, the rain returned in force. At one point, it looked like we were trying to take the bike through a river. Considering the wetness, I assumed we were going back to Wandi's house, but nope. Instead he was taking me to another temple (because that's what Wandi had originally planned). All I wanted was to get somewhere dry and change my clothes. I was wearing a rain jacket, but it wasn't designed for this much water (more water resistant than repellant), and I could feel wet fingers running down my back and stomach. I couldn't see anything out of my glasses because they were fogged up and covered in raindrops, my shoes felt like mini pools that squelched with each step, and since water was underneath my shirt, I was certain it had managed to ooze through my bag as well. I was most definitely not in the mood to walk around another temple area.

If my guide had been there before, he probably thought it was the shortest visit of his life. I walked around in 5 minutes and then rushed back to the motorbike, visions of warm, dry clothes dancing behind my eyelids.

My guide contacted Wandi who came back to the house since his job was around the corner. It was not even lunchtime yet and I felt like the day was done. Wandi asked if I wanted some hot water to wash myself and I realized that there was no water heater aside from the plug-in element. My vision of warmth and dry clothes faded as I didn't want to keep Wandi from his work. I assured him I was fine, waved him off and then washed quickly clean in cool water instead. Definitely not the day I had envisioned.

I'm sure I could talk more about what I learned from this experience and how it was still valuable--and I'm sure it was--but it also sucked. Despite the warmer climate, I spent the next couple hours huddled under a blanket, chilled from the inside, my only company my book and the roaring sound of the wedding music blasting from the speaker on the street.

Love and Hugs

Friday, January 04, 2019

Travel Log: Indonesia Day 3

Dec 19th, 2018

Today I was reminded the importance of The Moment. In specific, being in the moment and enjoying where you are when you are there. Especially as nowadays I feel constantly on the go at my job, jumping from one thing to the next. Sometimes I feel like I have to go through a checklist of places. You go, you see, you go on to the next one. Almost like a competition to see how many places you can add to your belt. With this trip, I'm trying really hard to linger. While it has been challenging for me, I have been rewarded so far with great people and experiences.

This morning, my new friend Ekky told me that one of Nuu's friends was available to show me a waterfall. After a slow morning of breakfast and chatting, we made our way to the meeting point where Nazar met us with his motorcycle. By now I am feeling more comfortable on the back of a bike, which was good as it took at least 45 mins to get there. My tall legs proved a problem as I had to keep them in a cramped position as we rode. I felt like a crab with her claws forced up against my shell.

The last leg of the journey was along the side of a steep, forested hill. The trail was only a foot wide in some spots and the drop was far. I definitely pictured falling to my death... When we finally arrived at the mini parking lot, I was so happy to stand on my own and dreaded the thought of returning to the bike for both reasons.
Along the base of the valley. Two of our
young guide-friends.

But before that the waterfall. We made our way down the winding trail to the bottom of the valley. We could hear the roar of the water (and some very vocal insects) before we saw the river open before us. We were at the base of the valley and the foliage was thick on either side. As we followed the river around a bend, we saw a thin bamboo bridge maybe 4 beams wide.

As we started to cross the bridge, I noticed a group of 8 young boys jumping into the water near the base of the falls some 50 meters up stream. A couple were definitely naked. They saw us from a distance and I pretended I hadn't noticed yet by turning more to the right while they ran for some clothes. I was surprised to see a couple smoking as we approached through the remaining trail. The youngest looked like he was 5 or 6 and the oldest no older than 11, maybe 12. By now I've been told that smoking is a large part of Indonesian culture. In many rural parts especially, families pass down blends from father to son. Despite government efforts to discourage smoking, it's not going anywhere. Ekky even told me that when faced with the choice, many of her friends would buy a pack of cigarettes over food when money is tight. But it's one thing to hear this and another to see a group of kids younger than my own students lighting up.
The falls, Coban Jidor.
Large rocks encroached the river near the base of the waterfall, making a mini-pool and a small rapid-slide. A great spot for jumping around on a warm morning. The water was cold and smelled like clay, but refreshing after the hot journey on the back of the motor bike. At first, I was only going to dip my feet in, but the boys kept staring at me and I could tell some were shy. I wanted to make them comfortable, or at least make them see me as a regular human and not just a foreigner with light eyes and skin. A couple were casually tossing stones at stacks near the base of the waterfall so I joined in. With a lucky shot, I knocked over a tower and the competition began with us scrambling for more stones to throw. When the towers were all collapsed, the only thing left was to jump into the pool. In shorts and a t-shirt, I wasn't prepared to swim, but with most of the boys in their underwear, I guess I blended in.

As the sun moved overhead and the valley became eclipsed in shade, we made our way out. A day well spent with moments to remember. I enjoyed the ride back along rural roads (and luckily the way out was not along the same narrow hill face as the road in!). The cities get so congested that it was nice to see what life is like on the outskirts. Plus the landscapes are beautiful.
Our gang of new friends.
I'm glad we lingered. I'm glad that it was more than just a photo-opt and that we made a connection, if small, with those boys.

Love and Hugs

My friend put together a mini video with some of the moments. Feel free to check it out:

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Things I've Learned about Indonesia

Another post-vacation list has been brewing between my ears and I'm excited to organize some of my observations. Whether you are new to my blog or an oldie, I hope you enjoy this post. ;)

Indonesia - Fast Facts:
* There are over 17,000 islands in Indonesia
* 90% of the country is Muslim; 90% of Bali is Hindu
There are two types of Muslim groups marked by either the blue or green colouring on Mosques
Money is counted in Rupiah
There are over 750 languages across the country with Bahasa Indonesian being the main language (Locals also speak maybe 1-3 other languages depending on where they live)
* Neighbourhoods aren't "developed" like North America. People buy land and then build their own homes with contractors which makes neighbourhoods more unique
Many people have caged birds in their yard as it is a sign of wealth (goal: most beautiful song = bragging rights)
* The food is delicious

Waiting in Traffic.
1. Transportation
First, Indonesians, like in Malaysia and Singapore, drive on the left side of the road. Second, motorcycles are life. I can't say that I saw many buses--aside from a few intercity buses that is. The main transportation around the city is by scooter/motorcycle or motorcycle taxi. Unless you have a lot of luggage, avoid using a car. Traffic can get really congested and the benefit to motor-taxis is that they know how to zip between and move with the flow of traffic. It is very easy to use online apps like Grab, Uber or the Indonesian GoJek to get from A to B, to send something to someone else, or to order pick up and delivery. I opted to use GoJek when I had to arrange my own rides because it told you how much the price would be if you paid in cash or through app (with a discount) when you ordered the ride. As a foreigner, you will get cheated at some point, but it doesn't have to be with GoJek! (Side note: in really tourist-heavy parts of Bali, they discouraged online transit apps because they wanted to promote the use of local providers).

2. Smoking Culture
Smoking is ingrained into the culture, especially for the men. I saw young children passing around a joint of some sort at different points of my trip. At times, they looked no older than 6 or 7. The government has put out initiatives against smoking, but they haven't really made an impact. One of my new friends told because smoking is part of family traditions. People aren't always smoking tobacco; secret family recipes are passed down from father to son through generations and it's hard to stop that sort of family tradition. That being said, she also mentioned how many of her friends, when forced to pick between a pack of cigarettes and eating a meal, would pick the cigarettes.

3. (Lack of) Fitness Culture...
Potentially because of 1 & 2..? I went on a tour of Mt. Bromo on East Java with mostly Indonesians. It was about a 2k walk from the parking area to the base and then up a steep section of stairs. It was across sand/volcanic ash, so not the best for breathing, but I felt like the majority of people hardcore struggled. I wondered how much exercise they normally get day to day. Locals also gave me weird looks when I said I wanted to walk places. I knew it was hot out, but it wasn't too hot for a stroll.
From the top of Mt Bromo looking back the way we've come. The "parking lot" is in the distance.
4. Timelines & School
When I was staying in Malang on East Java, I learned that the prayer bells ring at the Mosques at 4:30 in the morning. My new friend Ekky told me that for many families (and especially moms), this is when they start their day. This conversation revealed the difference in school days. Schools start around 6:30-6:45 every day. In high school, classes then end at 2 in the afternoon. (So at least they aren't in school for longer!). She went on to explain how Indonesians have a different view of time. For instance 12pm-2pm is afternoon, 3pm-5pm is evening, and after 6pm it's night. So close to the equator, the sun sets around 6pm and it makes sense, but I don't know if I'd want to be at work so early every day! It would take some getting used to.

Nasi Campur at a Warung restaurant in Kuta, Bali
5. Food
Can I leave it at that?
Indonesian cuisine uses a lot of peanuts (not in all dishes, but if you are allergic, keep that in mind). Like many Asian countries I've visited, rice is a huge staple. And why not when the country grows rice locally? Other dishes (spiced vegetables, meat, eggs, etc...) are available as sides. In many restaurants, it is sort of set up like a buffet line but you only pay for what you eat. This makes it easier if you are vegetarian or if you aren't super hungry. These style of restaurants had a sink readily available because traditionally you eat with your hands.

My time in Bali made me realize that "tourist" Bali also offers a lot of "tourist" foods, too, like the instagram popular smoothie bowls. Yeah it's easy to get a lot of fruit in this country, but if you are looking to experience Indonesian culture and foods, make sure you also check out local restaurants! The best ones are delicious and very affordable.

Setting up the tent on the street.
The large object on the left is the speaker.
6. Wedding Culture
Another fun fact I learned while in Malang is that December-January is "wedding season." Specifics for wedding attire and structure vary across the country depending on region, so I can only speak to what I saw on East Java, because yes, I crashed a wedding. And then I was invited to another (although sadly I wasn't on East Java anymore and couldn't attend! ㅠㅠ).

Weddings are held at the home of the richer of the two getting married. A giant tent-like structure is built out front a couple days before and a giant speaker is procured. From then on, the family blasts the neighbourhood with music at all hours of the day. Since my friends house was right across the street, I can attest that it was deafening. As I explored the neighbourhood, I passed a couple of other tents set up, too. Not all of them were at the music stage yet, but some were letting the whole world know that the wedding was coming.
Inside the tent a day later.
Just a couple hours until the wedding!
Standing awkwardly with the bride and groom. Her dress was absolutely stunning.
I was leaving to catch a bus shortly after peeking in on their ceremony (and somehow also sharing the food!). I was not expecting a black and gold wedding dress. In case you can't see the picture, she looked like royalty with a golden bouquet, crown and veil. Her dress was a black velvet waterfall that cascaded down the stairs of the makeshift stage. It looked like a beautiful ceremony and I was honoured to be there for a small part.

All in all, I feel I could add more to this list, but I'll cap it here for now (I originally started with 10 but wanted to keep it shorter!). I have a couple of post-journal entries that I want to share, and I'll weave in the other observations that way, mayhap.

Stay tuned.

Love and Hugs

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